It is Better to Pursue Quality. Or Quantity.
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness. Ps 84:10 ESV
Quality. Quantity. Which is better? Here in Ps. 84, the nod would have to go to quality. One day in the courts of God is better than a thousand days anywhere else. Better to be a slave standing in the doorway of the house of the Lord than a resident of the tents of wickedness.
Why is one day in God’s courts better than a thousand days anywhere else? What makes the Psalmist choose brevity over length? Time is a precious commodity, perhaps one of the most precious in our existence, so what makes the one day better than a thousand?
I suppose someone would say it’s the right thing to do. It’s better because it’s right. Better to honor God one day than not for a thousand. But actually there’s an answer in the text, and here it is:
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
the LORD bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly. Ps. 84:11 ESV
Better to be where there is “favor and honor” bestowed and where “good thing[s]” are not withheld for a single day than in a land void of a God who is a “sun and shield” for a thousand days. The quality of this one day trumps the quantity of the thousand days.
But wait just a minute… because there are other texts where the reasoning seems opposite: In Hebrews 11:25, Moses is described as “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin…” Sin has pleasures, but they’re passing. Moses considered the ill-treatment, or “the reproach of Christ” to be a greater treasure than all the treasures of Egypt, for “he was looking to the reward,” v26. Sin’s pleasures were temporary; the reward’s pleasures were eternal. The quantity of the treasures of the reproach of Christ far outweighed the quantity of the pleasures of sin. Sin’s pleasures are, after all, very fleeting.
Paul uses this same line of reasoning as well in 2Cor 4:17, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Affliction is momentary; the glory it produces is eternal. The quantity of the glory far outweighs the quantity of the affliction. Better to suffer for a moment and be clothed in glory for eternity. Better to have brief pain and eternal pleasure. We can understand that easy enough, that’s probably the only kind of logic that gets us into the dentist’s chair (writes a man who hasn’t sat in one in several years). The very sound of a drill makes your skin crawl; but it is over soon, and a toothache left untended may cause months or even years of pain. Better to just deal with the brief pain. That worked for Moses, and it worked for Paul.
But for the Psalmist, the logic was different. The value of being under the “sun and shield”-ness of the God who bestows favor and honor and withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly, if only under those things for a moment, was far greater than any benefits to be found anywhere else.
It’s not, I think, that there are no benefits to being anywhere else. It’s not that there are no perks to being in the tents of wickedness, especially in the short term. Moses understood the allure of dwelling in the tents of wickedness. Demas, having loved the present world, was so enamored by the pleasures of the tents of wickedness that he abandoned any desire to be in the courts of God.
But the Psalmist is seeing something incredibly valuable in the courts of God; to him, the favor, honor, and “good things” granted in the space of a single day outweigh everything offered anywhere else by, at least poetically speaking, a thousand to one.
Combine the two kinds of logic, and I think you get this: The quality of life in the courts of God is better than life outside of it, because in the presence of God is favor and honor and all good things (no doubt Paul echoes this thought in Romans 8:32). The quality of that one day is such that the quantity could be completely skewed backwards, a thousand to one, and it would still be better to take the one day.
On the other hand, the quantity of eternal life from the hands of God is such that the quality of this present life can be skewed backwards so far that it’s better to abandon the palace of Egypt and wander in the desert with a bunch of whiny people for 40 years and then die before you get to experience any temporal reward for all the labors, knowing that an eternity of pleasure will completely eclipse a few mere decades of pain. Better to suffer a momentary affliction, because eternal glory awaits.
Quality or quantity of our days, both serve as motivators to keep us striving to take the kingdom like violent men. It is to our benefit as believers to pursue quality of life in the courts of the Lord, though we only live there one day. And, it is to our benefit to pursue quantity of life in the presence of the Lord, though by all earthly measures our quality of life is nothing but pain and trouble and walking away from temporal pleasures. We may, it turns out sacrifice either one, only to find the other far outweighs it. And that’s perhaps the best no-lose scenario imaginable.